The Boloye: the dance of the Panther Man
Art is not only a representation. This is the definition that characterizes Greek art. African art is about life. It is a vital part of everyday life. Indeed, it has a function of initiation, learning about life or a specific cult. In the majority of African countries, the artistic domain manifests itself through culture. It is the temple of creation, renewal and sharing of values. As a result, culture is identified as the essence of people. In Senufo country, the transmission of importance is done through various channels, notably dance. Dance aims to bring the dancer(s) into communion with God by linking their body and mind in harmony. They serve to achieve peace of mind through meditation. They often take the form of trances. The dancer dances as if a spirit possessed the body. The dances occur at a specific time and are fixed by the ritual calendar; they happen within a particular place, in an area reserved for the ceremonies. However, it is not just any dance, but the panther man’s dance, commonly called the Boloye. This name is due to the dancers’ appearance, who are always dressed in yellow costumes and patterns that refer to the panther’s skin. This detail leads many to qualify Boloye as a mystical or sacred dance capable of affecting individuals.
Thus, through this article, we will see the origin of Boloye, its effects, its place within the dances that make up the Ivorian terroir and the possibilities of exporting this dance beyond the Ivorian borders.
A dance with an ambiguous origin
The Boye or Panther dance is a traditional Senoufo dance, an ethnic group from the north of Côte d’Ivoire. Once performed at funerals, the Boloye has now become a dance of rejoicing. However, it retains its sacred character.
The origin of this dance is discussed by two villages in the north of the country: the village of Waraniene and the village of Lataha.
According to the inhabitants of the village of Waraniene, the panther dance (Boloye) was initiated by an ancestor, Fodonon, who liked to stay home alone on Fridays. He did not want to visit his friends. One day he asked himself how he could compensate for his loneliness. He thought of a vine found in the bush called “bologui”. He cut the vine and got a calabash and a branch. He then connected the branch to the calabash and tied the string in the form of a bow. And he started to play the instrument at home. Over time, others began to enjoy it. One day a friend who came to visit him found him playing and offered to play it at weddings and funerals. In the meantime, there was already an initiation called the ”Tchepori” (women’s initiation). In Sénoufo country, when we talk about initiation, everything comes down to the woman named “Katchélew”. The initiates know what I am talking about. So they decided to make this dance sacred. Nowadays, to be an actor of Boloye, you have to be initiated.
The village of Lataha reports that Boloye has initially been a children’s dance. And that it is later that adults will improve it, perfect its instruments, give it an importance and a sacred character. Not everyone can play the instruments of Boloye, and only the initiated have the right to do so. The initiation is also necessary to be able to wear the dance outfit with the panther’s fur. Hence the name of the panther dance. It is also from the village of Lataha that the Boloye has been exported to other localities in the far north of Côte d’Ivoire.
A dance that makes the rainfall
The Boloye, a dance of rejoicing, has other mystical powers. The power to make the rainfall,”( Ali Coulibaly, 2011). “The Senufo people are farmers. They grow food crops such as groundnuts, yams, millet, maize, rice, sorghum, etc. When the rains are late in coming, they have to wait for the rain to fall. When the rains are late, these crops cannot withstand the drought. This can lead to famine. To get the rain to water the crops, farmers often resort to the Boloye dance. This is performed mainly. At its birth, the Boloye was only danced at night and during funerals, says (Lassina Siélé,2010). According to our interlocutor, the Boloye is one of the best and oldest traditional dances of the PORO region. The age of the dancers varies between eight and fifteen years. The number of dancers varies between two and five. The panther dance or Boloye is made of acrobatics. The dancers sometimes jump on both feet, sometimes on one foot raised high.
The most acrobatic dance of the region
The mask wearer arrives with a carefree and proud step, encouraged by the sound and rhythm of special traditional instruments (a kind of lute made of a long neck of plucked strings and a pumpkin that is beaten with the hand to give the rhythm). Only the initiated are allowed to wear the Boloye costume. It is a simple costume, made of brown fabric, which barely shows the stains despite the dust caused by the dance steps. The mask is soft and feline. The dancers hold sticks in their hands. As the rhythm changes, one dancer begins to charge the pace until it explodes into pirouettes, backflips and flips. This demonstration highlights the technique of forest initiates. The dancer crawls on his back and stomach, then gets up and returns to his place with a swaying step.
In certain circumstances, as if to challenge the next dancer, the first dancer squats on the ground. The latter arrives, repeats the sequence of steps, turns like a top and then questions the next dancer. Boloye is pure energy, like that of those who, after the horror of the forest, find it challenging to leave adolescence behind and enter adulthood.
The specificities of Boloye
In the Ivory Coast, there is a wide range of dances. And these dances are specific to each culture. However, they have particularities in terms of their functions. Indeed, dances in Africa always have an exact meaning. They can have a function:
– entertaining and convivial;
– social and psychological: they serve as a place of contact, exchange and dialogue. It is where problems of loneliness, indifference, lack of communication and isolation are addressed and resolved;
– religious: spiritual ceremonies create a link with God
– Ritual: celebrating various life passages such as birth, coming of age, marriage and death.
This is the case for the Wambele, Kaparatcha and Ngoron.
However, the boloye is characterized by its double version: a version reserved for initiates and a version known as copies. This is done with the agreement of the parents. The Tchémbara, the natives of Korhogo, having appreciated this dance, asked the Fodonon natives to perform it regularly. Given its sacred nature, the parents gave a “copy”, which is not holy wood. This was to relieve the natives.
Consequently, the Boloye that we see in big cities like Abidjan and elsewhere is a copy. It is made to rejoice and therefore can be filmed. On the other hand, the original can neither be filmed nor photographed.
It should also be noted that unlike the “boloye of the street”, the Boloye of the sacred forest is not danced with acrobatics. It has other steps. Each step has a particular meaning. In short, there is a Boloye open to all and a sacred Boloye. Waraniéné is the first holder of the Boloye.
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Youtube.com. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=88jfUFRadBQ&t=273s> [Accessed 28 March 2021].
Détours des Mondes. 2021. La société du Poro chez les Sénoufo. [online] Available at: <https://detoursdesmondes.typepad.com/dtours_des_mondes/2006/01/la_socit_du_por.html> [Accessed 28 March 2021].
Halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://halshs.archives-ouvertes.fr/halshs-00360963/document> [Accessed 28 March 2021].
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